Mind MastersGinkgo Biloba and Acetyl L-Carnitine can help enhance your memory
WHAT IS IT: Sometimes referred to as a “living fossil,” the Ginkgo Biloba tree is one of the oldest-surviving species on Earth. Because of ginkgo’s reputation for improving memory and brain function, it’s one of the most popular and best-studied herbs.
HOW IT WORKS: The beautiful, fan-shaped leaves of the ginkgo tree contain several compounds (flavonoids and terpenoids) that scientists believe are responsible for ginkgo’s effects. Ginkgo’s primary claim to fame: It improves blood flow to tiny blood vessels throughout the body, including those that supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain. But scientists now believe that ginkgo also aids memory and brain function by stimulating nerve-cell activity and protecting nerve cells from damage.
Hundreds of studies show that ginkgo can help reverse or delay mental deterioration in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In a yearlong trial, researchers found that participants who took 120 mg a day of a 40:1 ginkgo extract experienced noticeable gains in cognitive function (Journal of the American Medical Association, 1997, vol. 278, bi, 16).
WHAT IS IT: Found naturally in the brain, acetyl L-carnitine (also call ALC or ALCAR) is a molecule that helps transport fats into the mitochondria; the “energy factories” in all cells. Dietary sources of ALC include protein-rich foods from animals such as meats, fish, and dairy products; however it it’s difficult to “eat” a therapeutic dose.
HOW IT WORKS: Research shows that ALC increases energy within the mitochondria and improves the activity of brain neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow cells to communicate with one another. ALC also has powerful antioxidant properties and increases cellular levels of glutathione, the body’s natural and most potent free radical scavenger.
Evidence from laboratory studies has been positive. In a recent study, scientists found that the antioxidant properties of ALCAR helped protect against the damaging effects of beta-amyloid in the brain. Betaamyloid is a sticky protein that forms plaques in brain tissue and is found in people with Alzheimer’s disease (Journal of Neuroscience Research, 2006, vol. 84, no.2)
GliSODin Protects Against Oxidative Stress
Supplementation with superoxide dismutase (SOD) (as GilSODin)promotes cellular antioxidant status and protects against oxidative stress-induced cell death, according to a study published in the March issue of Phytotherapy Research (www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/jhome/12567).
The increase in blood antioxidant activities following supplementation with GliSODin correlated with an increased resistance of red blood cells to oxidative stress-induced cell death. GliSODin was also shown to increase antioxidant levels in the liver and demonstrated an enhanced resistance to oxidative stress-induced cell death.
The researchers concluded supplementation with GliSODin in normal mice for 28 days was found to promote the circulating antioxidant enzymes SOD, catalase and Gpx. And this was specific to GliSODin; non-protected SOD extract or gliadin alone were unable to promote these antioxidants.
“This is the third and most important study conducted on the mechanism of action of GliSODin,: said Paul Flowerman, president of P.L. Thomas. “This study validates the concept of GliSODin as an ‘antioxidant catalyst,’ showing significant promotion of internal antioxidant production, including SOD, catalase and glutathione peroxidase.”
Popular supplements are often a flash in the pan, sometimes driven more by buzz than by actual benefit. But alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant that has long been used in Germany to treat diabetic nerve disease, keeps expanding its repertoire; research shows that it has the potential to boost energy, balance blood sugar, aid liver function, and more.
While the research on many antioxidants sometimes yields mixed results, alpha-lipoic acid, or ALA, offers five potential benefits.
Acts as a “universal antioxidant”
ALA is an antioxidant in its own right, and your body converts some of it to dihydrolipoic acid, an even more powerful antioxidant. Both forms neutralize a wide variety of the disease-promoting molecules known as free radicals. ALA is also capable of restoring the body’s levels of other antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, after they get used up fighting free radicals. And unlike most other antioxidants, it’s both water and fat-soluble, meaning that it works in all parts of a cell. Due to this supreme versatility, Lester Packer, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, has dubbed it “the universal antioxidant.”
Boosts energy and fights aging
Animal studies led by Bruce N. Ames, Ph.D., of the Children’s Hospital Oakland, California, have shown that combined supplements of ALA and acetyl-L-carnitine (found in protein) can boost energy at the cellular level. Ames found that the supplement combination also restored some youthful qualities in older animals, including physical vigor and mental sharpness, and led to greater longevity. A clinical study to confirm that the benefits apply to people is under way.
In 2004, researchers reported in Nature Medicine that ALA can play a key role in reducing appetite. When your body’s levels of fuel (glucose and fat) drop, activity of an enzyme known as AMPK is increased. High levels of this enzyme make you feel hungry. When the researchers fed ALA to lab animals, their AMPK activity levels dropped—and so did their food intake, weight, and blood-sugar levels. The researchers were enthusiastic about ALA’s potential to help prevent obesity in people.
Treats diabetes and hypoglycemia
ALA’s ability to help manage diabetes is well documented. It improves nerve function and reduces pain and numbness in the feet, a common consequence of diabetes. Some studies have also found that ALA improves insulin function and reduced blood-sugar levels, which also benefit people with diabetes. And ALA can help people with hypoglycemia, a condition characterized by roller-coaster blood-sugar levels.
For people who take insulin or other medication for diabetes, it’s important to work with a physician if you’re interested in trying ALA. Because ALA lowers blood sugar, your medication will likely need adjustment.
Boosts liver function
ALA boosts level of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant made in the liver. ALA expert Burton Berkson, M.D., Ph.D., became excited about ALA years ago when he confirmed that high dosages could prevent liver failure in people who had eaten poisonous Amanita mushrooms. More recently, Berkson has championed the use of ALA, combined with selenium and silymarin (a constituent of the liver-friendly herb milk thistle), in the treatment of hepatitis-C liver infections.
Body & Soul March 2005